Data-driven water management in Manjimup
If you ask farmers what water is worth, they might say ‘a livelihood’. In an Australian first, a new study in Manjimup, 300km south of Perth, aims to drill down to a dollar figure by calculating the economic returns for every megalitre of water used for irrigation.
The Food Agility CRC project is led by Curtin University in collaboration with the Western Australian Government, Southern Forest Food Council, local farmers and technology companies like Perth-based SWAN Systems.
The project aims to support farmers to use data to make decisions about water use and irrigation, as well as to demonstrate the value that irrigation generates for farmers and the regional economy.
The three-year project targets avocado, apple, wine grape, stone fruit, vegetable and truffle farms, which make up about 90 per cent of horticultural production in the Warren-Donnelly catchment.
About the project – calculating value for crop, farm and whole region
Researchers will install digital water flow meters and soil moisture probes on multiple blocks of each produce type, measuring how much water is being used in real time.
Participating farmers will be able to see, via an online dashboard, their daily water use and soil moisture. They will also be able to compare their irrigation with cumulative evaporation over the season and see data on recent and forecasted rainfall.
At the end of the season, researchers will calculate water productivity for each commodity type (profit per megalitre). Farmers will be able to see their water data and how their block performed compared with other de-identified farmers in their group. Farmers will only be able to see their own data, with researchers applying best-practice data privacy methods.
After two seasons, the team will aggregate the data to create a regional model of water use for agriculture and its flow-on economic benefits, for example to local businesses, health and education.
The data will help farmers make short and long-term decisions about farm management, targeting the practices that help them get the most value out of their water. The project will benefit not only the Warren-Donnelly catchment but will also be a pilot for other horticultural production communities.
It’s really important that producers understand their exact water usage, the value of the water and the cost of growing those crops. This project will arm our industry with the true value of water and what it brings back to the community. The ultimate goal is to get more crop per drop," said Bevan Eatts, Morning Glory Farm, Director of Southern Forest Flavours.
“We want to show how the value of water flows through farms into local communities, supporting the businesses and services that make up life in a regional town," added Dr Mike Briers, Food Agility CRC CEO. "We hope that Manjimup will become an example of efficient, data-driven water management for other agricultural regions.”
Source: Food Agility